How to optimise your m-commerce site for search

A graphic of a mobile phone with a striped red and white awning on its top, to make it resemble a shop front. The word "BUY" is displayed on the phone screen. A hand is hovering over the phone screen with one finger pressing on the word "BUY".

Image by Narendera, made available via CC0 (

In 2015, Google announced that for the first time ever, it was seeing more searches taking place worldwide on mobile devices than on desktop.

The steady and unerring shift towards mobile over the past few years has meant that online retailers now need to think about ‘m-commerce’ as well as ecommerce.

M-commerce is the name given to retail transactions which take place on mobile, and retailers are increasingly aware of the importance of having a dedicated, optimised mobile presence in order to attract these transactions to their site.

But how can you make sure that your m-commerce site is as visible as possible to searching shoppers? Drawing on insights from our recent ClickZ Intelligence report, ‘The DNA of a Great M-Commerce Site’, here are some practical steps that you can take to make sure your m-commerce site is optimised for search.

Make sure your site is fully mobile-responsive

Having a mobile-responsive site is essential even when you aren’t looking at SEO. If your site is properly optimised for mobile, your customers will have a better experience, and will be more likely to convert and complete a transaction instead of getting frustrated and abandoning the process.

As Salvador Carrillo, CEO of Mobile Dreams Factory, writes in the report:

“Be clear that consumer behaviour is different in mobile, so everything is about UX and design – fewer clicks, prioritised search, short description, click to buy etc. The more frictionless the experience (payments, confirmations, refill, and so on), the more conversions.”

A graphic of two mobile phones side by side, one showing a cluttered webpage layout with a small image, lots of text and small navigation buttons. The cluttered phone display has a red circle with an X at the bottom of it. The other phone image has a mobile-optimised layout, with a large image, large text and navigation buttons, and a streamlined, vertical layout. This phone has a green circle with a tick at the bottom.Source: Google Resources for Webmasters

And on top of the advantages for customer experience and conversion, it’s a well-known fact that Google ranks sites that are fully mobile optimised higher up in search results, identifying them with a ‘mobile-friendly’ label to alert users to the sites where they will have a better experience. Bing also accounts for mobile optimisation when crawling and ranking sites.

Clearly, if you want to improve the search ranking of your m-commerce site, proper mobile optimisation is step one. So how can you make sure that your site is mobile-responsive as per Google’s standards?

To help you out, we’ve put together a comprehensive checklist of ways that you can make sure your m-commerce site passes all of Google’s tests to get that ‘mobile-friendly’ certification in search. And Andy Favell, the author of the ClickZ Intelligence report on m-commerce, has laid out how you can comprehensively test the mobile usability of your site when you’re done.

Implement app indexing and deep-linking

Now, you don’t necessarily need to have an app in order to have the best possible mobile presence for your retail business.

At our last #ClickZChat on what makes a great m-commerce experience, our intrepid tweeters discussed whether businesses should invest in a mobile site, or a dedicated app, for commerce, and concluded that it can depend on their needs.

But if you do have an m-commerce app or think that building one would be most suitable for your business, app indexing and deep-linking will give you a huge competitive advantage in search.

App indexing is when Google’s search ‘spiders’ crawl an app in the same way that they do a website, and present content from the app directly within search results. Tapping on that link will launch the app, if the user has it installed, and take them directly to the content.

App indexing is a ranking factor in search as well as being a great way to promote, yet only a minority of brands are making use of it. A study by Searchmetrics, conducted on the 100 most visible websites in Google US searches, found that only 30% of those with an Android app and 19% with an iOS app had implemented app indexing.

So in case you needed any more reasons to set this up, it will almost certainly allow you to get ahead of your competitors who aren’t yet using it. To get started, Dan Cristo has written a step-by-step guide on how to set up app indexing as a developer.

Speed up your site

Aside from a poorly adapted user interface, one of the biggest issues that can kill a mobile audience’s interest is site speed (or the lack of it). Google recognises this, which is why it has confirmed that the next mobile-friendly update will include page speed as a ranking factor.

According to Kissmetrics’ statistics on how website performance affects shopping behaviour, 40% of web users will abandon a page if it takes longer than three seconds to load, while a one-second delay (or three seconds of waiting) tends to decrease customer satisfaction by about 16%.

So the loading speed of your m-commerce site can have a real impact on your bottom line, as well as on your SEO.

A picture of a girl with short, dark hair and glowing white headphones, wearing a skintight metallic body suit and white gloves. She is flying through the air and punching ahead of her with one fist, speed lines indicating her fast motion.Image by Alan9187, CC0 public domain image

As Andy Favell writes in the ‘DNA of a Great M-Commerce Site’ report,

“With mobile, less is more. Less clutter. Fewer clicks. Fewer, smaller pictures. Easy navigation. If your responsive site is sending everything from your PC site to the mobile device, it will slow down load times and chomp through the customer’s data allowance.”

This is sound advice for improving both user experience and site load time: the less clutter, the better. Nor does it just apply to your mobile site (or app): site speed has long been a search ranking factor on desktop, so decreasing load times for all iterations of your site will improve your SEO across the board – as well as your customer satisfaction.

Kristi Hines’ piece for Search Engine Watch on why page speed should be your next focus has some actionable steps you can take to improve your site speed, including looking at your web host, website technology and content. And don’t miss Matt Owen’s detailed guide on how to optimise your page images to increase site speed.

There is one other option which can greatly improve the speed of your mobile presence: Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP.

Launched just four months ago, Accelerated Mobile Pages are specifically designed to load lightning-fast by stripping out much of the clutter that normally slows down page load times, like third-party scripts, trackers and in-line styling.

A screenshot of mobile results for "EU referendum", showing AMP-ified BBC News stories in the "top stories" carousel at the top of search results.

Google boasts that sites created with AMP can load anywhere from 15 to 85% faster than non-AMP mobile sites, which is bound to be a huge advantage for SEO; to say nothing of the fact that Google, as the creator of AMP, has a vested interest in promoting AMP websites in its search results.

The drawbacks are a lot of extra work for developers, as using AMP means creating an entirely separate version of a mobile site using Google’s new AMP-HTML web language.

SEOs are currently divided about whether or not to go all-in on AMP, and there is also the danger of spreading your web presence over too many platforms, which requires extra work and investment to maintain.

As with the mobile website versus app debate, ultimately it comes down to where you want to allocate your resources, and what you think would best suit your business.

Learn to ‘think mobile’

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when designing and optimising for mobile is to assume that mobile users have the same wants, needs and behaviour as desktop users.

Think about the way that you yourself browse, search and shop on mobile: you’re likely to be doing so in fundamentally different circumstances, and for different reasons, than if you were at a desktop computer.

An image of a stick person holding a mobile phone with the words "I want to..." underneath. To the right is a list of 16 options for things the mobile user might do, such as "Send a text message", "Watch a video", "Check the weather", "Call Mom" and "Listen to a song." At the bottom is a credit to Google Search Quality Guidelines.

Andy Favell recommends reading Google’s search quality evaluator guidelines (PDF), specifically the section on Understanding Mobile User Needs (page 56), to get a feel for how mobile search queries can differ from desktop queries, and why.

Google breaks down mobile search queries into four main categories: know, do, website and visit in person queries, and explains how they may have different user intent than the same queries on a desktop computer.

Understanding the types of queries that mobile users have, and what they are looking for, will help you to better cater to them with your site.

It is also important to remember voice search, which is increasingly how users interface with their mobile devices. Voice search queries use natural language, and it’s well worth looking into what this is and how you can adapt your site to better satisfy natural language and voice queries.

A stock photograph of a long-haired woman, shown from behind, using a Samsung mobile phone.The best way to get a sense of what works on mobile is to use mobile yourself

The best way to get a sense of how mobile users navigate the web, of course, is to do so yourself. As Favell writes in the report:

“There are tools that can help, but for m-commerce sites there really is no substitute for getting your mobile device(s) out and conducting web searches.”

Try out different search terms, using both keywords and natural language, and see how well your site ranks for each.

Google has confirmed that it is developing a separate mobile index to better answer queries on mobile devices where the user intent may differ. So the better you optimise for mobile now, the more of an advantage you’ll have with visibility when the new index, as well as subsequent updates to Google’s mobile algorithm, are launched.

For much more insight into the DNA of a Great M-Commerce Site, as well as other detailed reports and best practice guides on achieving digital dominance, head over to ClickZ Intelligence or browse our Reports Library.

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